A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
by Jonathan Lewis.
Jermyn Street Theatre 16b Jermyn Street SW1Y 6ST To 9 May 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 7 May 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7287 2875.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 April.
School’s attempt to produce A-level playing field foiled by society’s failure to offer a level playing field.
It’s to be hoped Jonathan Lewis doesn’t take too long writing the remaining plays in his proposed ‘Education, Education, Education’ trilogy. Tony Blair’s declaration of his 1990s political priorities is already raggedly trailing the ground.
Like two other dramatic explorations of education, Barrie Keeffe’s explosive 1976 Gotcha and Alan Bennett’s 2004 The History Boys, Lewis focuses on pupils about to leave secondary education, and places them in a secluded part of their school – here, an isolation room for students with exam clashes.
One has already pasted copies of a photocopied face over the walls. It makes a weak joke and a poor protest, but it’s the first of several angry or desperate acts from the boys providing increased tension. Lewis aptly has the girls more mature, actually attempting to use the time for revision (there’s enough of this to be credible without losing dramatic temperature) – though one of them arguably has the most severe problem in the room.
Like Keeffe and Bennett, Lewis throws in sexual misdemeanour by a teacher. And, unlike the earlier plays, this teacher’s likely to have his career ended in his mid-twenties, for this, as well as exam gerrymandering – despite some Boys’ Own-style bravery.
His behaviour, alongside the notion of a school leaving students unsupervised in a way that could disqualify their exam entries, and doing nothing about it for nearly two hours, is the least credible part of a play that fizzes with energy and believable angst in its teenage characters.
Even the wildest events among the students spring from their psychologies, fear of failure (in this school, that means earning only an A-grade, without a star), awareness of social stratification and hints of cultural diversity counteracting the all-White casting.
And of life outside the ordered purpose of school, suggested by the soundtrack to events, a soft series of emergency sirens and crowd noises, plus the emergency vehicles seen at times on a screen.
Apart from Joe Layton’s teacher the cast is non-professional. They play with a concentration, in speech or repose, that’s fully achieved in Chris Popert’s smartly energetic and impressively focused production.
Aldous: Jack Bass.
Rowena: India Opzoomer.
Eleanor: Lydia Williams.
Bella: Eve Delaney.
Talia: Isabella Caley.
Zachir: AJ Lewis.
Louis: Finlay Stroud.
Johnny Hook: Jojo Macari.
Cal: Joe Taylor.
JJ: Christian Hines.
Twink: Elsa Perryman Owens.
Mr Preston: Joe Layton.
Director/Designer: Chris Popert.
Lighting: Paul McLeish.
Sound: Max Barton.
Video: Roland Walters.
Costume: Dee Shulman.
Fight director: Peter Burton.